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Wolves

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It ought to have been reassuring. These were the elite fighters, a hand-picked group of the country's best soldiers, and they were sworn to protect this carriage at all costs.

Yet Anne of Austria was uneasy. The men riding beside her wagon were draped in weaponry, which they handled with a swaggering nonchalance she could not reconcile with the notion of a regiment. Pistols clanked against cuirasses and swords. Bags of musket balls flapped on the leathered thighs of these men, sachets of gunpowder were stuffed hastily in their pockets of their doublets. How could she feel safe, surrounded by lethal power which was treated with such carelessness?

She leaned back against her Dutch embroidered cushions and tried to relax. This was a straightforward courtesy visit to the Duke of Racaut, a stay of a week or so, enough to oblige him to refurbish his house and slaughter his venison, not enough to bankrupt him and bring him back to Paris, begging for alms. Anne expected a week of dreary presentations to provincial dignitaries, interspersed with banquets of food prepared in despicable conditions. Paris was not ideal, but rural France was truly terrible.

She gazed at the pathetic hummocks which the locals called hills, and longed for the sweeping magnificence of her own country.

"Are you well, your majesty?"

Her ladies were unsettled by her restlessness. She must set a better example. "Quite well."

They peered at her. She thought to throw in an irresistible idea. "I miss the King."

The carriage erupted in a burst of sympathy. Anne let it wash over her and looked out of the window, again, at the soldiers.

They were undisciplined, cantering ahead or hanging back at random. She preferred to see an organised formation, and regular changes of the vanguard - fresh pairs of eyes monitoring her route. There were bandits, and pockets of religious fervour which might burst back into full blown war. And of course there was kidnap, hinted at by the Cardinal only this week. Any number of people might think a Queen a worthwhile prize.

Could this troop prevent a kidnapping, if one were attempted?

Anne frowned, and lifted her gloved hand to her cheek to hide it. These men did not match her idea of soldiers. In her mind's eye she saw a man with bright eyes and a crucifix at his throat, his horse and weapons well cared for, galloping towards her. He rode with the steady confidence of the long-serving soldier, and held himself alert, his bearded chin jutting with certainty in his own skills. His cloak, fastened at the neck, fluttered behind.

Anne sighed. The guard now closest to her carriage rode sloppily, and his brick-coloured cloak was caked in mud.

The man in her mind was but one of four. He wore a feather in his hat and his sword was always ready. And like his friends', his cloak was blue.

The cardinal had vouched for this special troop of his red guards on this journey, promising her safety. They were the country's top soldiers. Yes.

So why did she feel as if she was protected by wolves?